Cynisca /sɪˈnɪskə/ or Kyniska (Greek: Κυνίσκα; born c. 440
BC) was a Greek princess of Sparta. In 396 BC, she became the first
woman in history to win at the ancient Olympic Games.
1 Early life
2 Olympic Games
4 See also
6 External links
Cynisca was born around 440 BC in the ancient Greek city of
Sparta and was the daughter of the Eurypontid king of Sparta,
Archidamus II, and Eupoleia. She was also the sister of the later king
of Sparta, Agesilaus II. She is said to have been a tomboy, an expert
equestrian and very wealthy, the perfect qualifications for a
successful trainer. She was exceedingly ambitious to succeed at the
Olympic Games and the first woman to breed horses and win an Olympic
victory, according to Pausanias.
Her name means 'female puppy' in Ancient Greek. She was named after
her grandfather Zeuxidamus, who was called Cyniscos. It is possible
that this name related to a specific kind of dog in Sparta, the female
bloodhounds which were famous for their ability to find their quarries
by their scent.
While most women in the ancient Greek world were kept in seclusion and
forbidden to learn any kind of skills in sports, riding or hunting,
Spartan women by contrast were brought up from girlhood to excel at
these things so as to produce strong children, by going through early
training similar to that of their brothers.
Olympic Games were almost entirely male-only and women
were forbidden even to set foot in the main stadium at Olympia, where
running events and combat sports were held. Women were allowed to
enter only the equestrian events, not by running but by owning and
training the horses.
Cynisca employed men and entered her team at the
Olympics, where it won in the four-horse chariot racing (tethrippon
Greek: τέθριππον) twice, in 396 BC and again in 392 BC. The
irony is that she probably didn't see her victories.
There have been some speculations over the motives of Agesilaus in
directing his sister to join the equestrian competitions. One
explanation is that he wanted to rekindle the warlike spirit in the
Spartan society, which had given ground for the sake of a win in the
Olympic Games. Another possible reason is that Agesilaus wanted to
display Cynisca's abilities, or promote women generally.
According to Xenophon, she was encouraged to breed horses and compete
in the Games, by her brother Agesilaus II, in an attempt to discredit
the sport. He viewed success in chariot racing as a victory without
merit, which was only a mark of wealth and lavish outlay due to the
involvement of the horses' owner, while in the other events the
decisive factor was a man's bravery and virtue. By having a
woman win, he hoped to show the sport to be unmanly, but Cynisca's
victories did not stop wealthy Spartans engaging in the sport.
Cynisca was honored by having a bronze statue of a chariot
and horses, a charioteer and a statue of herself in the Temple of Zeus
in Olympia, by the side of the statue of Troilus, made by Apelleas,
and an inscription written declaring that she was the only female to
win the wreath in the chariot events at the Olympic Games. The
first person in the inscription indicates that
Cynisca was willing to
push herself forward and
Xenophon says that this inscription was
Agesilaus' idea. In addition to this, a hero-shrine of
Sparta at Plane-tree Grove, where religious ceremonies
were held. Only Spartan kings were graced in this way and
the first woman to receive this honor. The inscription from Olympia
(c. 390-380 BC) reads:
Sparta are my father and brothers
Kyniska, victorious with a chariot of swift-footed horses,
have erected this statue. I declare myself the only woman
in all Hellas to have won this crown.
Apelleas son of Kallikles made it.
Σπάρτας μὲν βασιλῆες ἐμοὶ
πατέρες καὶ ἀδελφοί, ἅρματι δ’
νικῶσα Κυνίσκα εἰκόνα τάνδ’ ἔστασεν
δ’ ἐμέ φαμι γυναικῶν Ἑλλάδος ἐκ
δε λαβεν στέφανον. Ἀπελλέας
Cynisca's win in the Olympics had a great impact on the ancient Greek
world as other women, not only Lacedaemonians, later won the chariot
racing, including Euryleonis, Belistiche, Zeuxo, Encrateia and
Hermione, Timareta, Theodota (both from Elis) and Cassia. However,
none of them was more distinguished for their victories than she
was. Zoe Karelli, a modern Greek poet, wrote a poem for Cynisca's
love for the horses and her Olympic win which made her name famous in
Greek history. This Spartan princess is frequently used until
today as a symbolic figure of the social rise of woman.
Euryleonis another celebrated Spartan woman who won the two horse
chariot races in 368 BC.
^ a b Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.8.1–3.
^ Herod, vi 7
^ Xenophon, Minor Works, Agesilaus 9.1 §6.
^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Agesilaus 20.1
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.12.5.
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.1.6.
Cynisca of Sparta". About.com. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.15.1.
^ IvO 160
^ Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες Γυναικών! (in Greek).
www.metafysiko.gr. Archived from the original on 2007-11-19. Retrieved
The No Woman Rule in Ancient Olympics
Spartan Olympic Victors
The Spartans on Channel 4
Pausanias, Description of Greece, online at Perseus
Paul Cartledge, The Spartans: An Epic History, 2nd edition 2003.
Stephen Hodkinson, Property and Wealth in Classical Sparta, The
Classical Press of Wales, 2000. ISBN 0-7156-3040-7
S. B. Pomeroy. Spartan Women (Oxford ; New York : Oxford
University Press, 2002).
G. P. Schauss and S. R. Wenn (eds). Onward to the Olympics: Historical
Perspectives on the
Olympic Games (Waterloo, Ont., Canada: Wilfrid
Laurier University Press, 2007).
Ancient Olympic Games
Chariot of polos
Synoris of polos
Tethrippon of polos
Herald and Trumpet contest
Acanthus of Sparta
Agasias of Arcadia
Agesarchus of Tritaea
Alcibiades of Athens
Alexander I of Macedon
Anaxilas of Messenia
Aratus of Sicyon
Archelaus I of Macedon
Arrhichion of Phigalia
Astylos of Croton
Berenice I of Egypt
Chaeron of Pellene
Chilon of Patras
Chionis of Sparta
Coroebus of Elis
Cylon of Athens
Cynisca of Sparta
Demaratus of Sparta
Desmon of Corinth
Diagoras of Rhodes
Diocles of Corinth
Ergoteles of Himera
Herodorus of Megara
Hiero I of Syracuse
Hypenus of Elis
Hysmon of Elis
Iccus of Taranto
Leonidas of Rhodes
Milo of Croton
Nero Caesar Augustus
Oebotas of Dyme
Onomastus of Smyrna
Orsippus of Megara
Peisistratos of Athens
Phanas of Pellene
Philinus of Cos
Philip II of Macedon
Philippus of Croton
Phrynon of Athens
Polydamas of Skotoussa
Pythagoras of Laconia
Pythagoras of Samos
Sostratus of Pellene
Theagenes of Thasos
Theron of Acragas
Tiberius Caesar Augustus
Timasitheus of Delphi
Troilus of Elis
Varazdat of Armenia
Xenophon of Aegium
Xenophon of Corinth
Lists of winners
Ancient Olympic victors
Archaeological Museum of Olympia
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Temple of Zeus at Olympia
Modern Olympic Games